50,000 WITNESSES

TO MURDER

By Bruce Harris




Mrs. Johnson’s fourth grade class sat quietly like little ladies and gentlemen with their hands folded in front of them. No one spoke. “She’ll be here shortly, class. Please be patient a little while longer. Chad Herbert, sitting in the row adjacent to the windows raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Herbert, what is it?”

“Mrs. Johnson, you said, she.”

Beverly Johnson had been teaching fourth graders at Blue Jay Elementary School for over a decade. She hoped one of the students noticed. If nothing else, it showed someone might be paying attention. “Yes, I did. Why?”

The boy looked pleased with himself. He thought he’d caught his teacher in an error. “Well, you told us a police officer was coming to speak to us today. I guess you meant to say he, not she?”

Lesson time for Mrs. Johnson and she seized the moment. She looked at her students. One of the more rewarding things for a teacher of young minds was having the opportunity to mold their thought patterns and dispel stereotypes. She went into an explanation about nontraditional jobs for females and males. “Remember everyone, in two weeks a nurse is coming here to speak to the class. The nurse happens to be a man.” She watched for the classes’ collective surprised reaction and was not disappointed. “The police officer coming to speak to us today is a woman. Does that surprise anyone?”

Stacie Goldberg raised her hand, and waited to be called upon. “No, not me. I know a policeman who is a woman. She…”

Mrs. Johnson interrupted. “Police officer. Remember everyone, if we say policeman, then we refer to a male. Police person or police officer could be either male or female. Everyone see the difference?” The class nodded almost in unison. “Good. Okay, go on Miss Goldberg.”

Goldberg told her story about a female officer coming to their home because her father was not able to turn off the family’s burglar alarm set off by her little brother. Class laughter was interrupted by a knock at the door and Police Officer Morgan Walters stepped into the classroom.

Mrs. Johnson moved toward the guest speaker and extended her hand. “So nice of you to come, officer. The class and I have been looking forward to hearing all about what it’s like to be a police officer. I’m sure you have some very interesting stories to share with us today.”

Much to the approval of Mrs. Johnson, Officer Walters wore her uniform. She knew the students appreciated that. Walters smiled broadly. “Likewise. I’m so excited to be here and speak to such fine looking young men and women.”

The class of twenty was made up of seventeen boys and three girls. Walters was Ivy League educated and was short-listed to make detective grade. She truly enjoyed speaking to students and sharing her experiences as a police officer. She quickly sized up the class.

“Okay, class. Please give Officer Walters your undivided attention and remember she is our guest here.”

Morgan Walters stood in front of the room as Mrs. Johnson retreated to the back. “Good morning, everyone. It’s so nice to be here with you today. I thought I would tell you about a murder mystery in which I was involved. It occurred at a baseball game, of all places. Do you want to hear about it?” The class nodded. Mrs. Johnson smiled. “Very good. I’ll tell you what. I’ll describe what happened and then I will ask you who you think committed the murder. Officer Walters began walking around the classroom. She’d been through this before. “This happened several years ago. Maybe some of you remember it. I was called to Tri-Cities Field one summer evening. A pitcher, by the name of Ron Baker was stabbed and killed on the pitcher’s mound in front of 50,000 spectators in the stands! Who remembers that?” No one raised a hand. “Okay. I will describe the scene of the crime, and then I will ask you all who you think committed the murder. You all like that?”

The class could barely contain themselves.

“Pitcher Ron Baker was murdered during the fifth inning of a baseball game. How many of you are baseball fans?”

Most of the boys and all three girls raised their hands. “Excellent. So, nobody remembers the game at Tri-Cities Field when Baker was stabbed? I guess that happened while you were all too young. Well, listen carefully, and I’ll explain to you all that happened. Then, I’ll ask each of you to tell me who you think the murderer was and why. Okay?” The students again nodded in anticipation. Mrs. Johnson in the back of the room was thrilled with the guest speaker she had selected.

Officer Walters turned down the classroom lights and powered up a computer. Vivid shots of a baseball game between the Sliders and the Storm appeared on the screen in front of the classroom. “In the bottom of the fifth inning, pitcher Ron Baker got himself and his team into trouble. He gave up consecutive singles, walked a batter to load the bases, and then gave up a double and another single. There were runners on first base and third base with no one out. Storm coach Melvin Torres, a former right-handed relief pitcher called timeout and walked toward the pitcher’s mound. The Storm’s entire infield, third baseman Chad Ballinger, shortstop Elliot Montrose, second baseman Kim Soo Chan, first baseman Babe Phillips, and catcher Bob Vitelli met him there. Take a close look at this photo.” Walters paused as she displayed the pitcher’s mound with the coach and infielders with pitcher Ron Baker surrounded by his teammates. “After thirty seconds, home plate umpire Charley Brickhouse, a onetime shortstop who played before most of the current ballplayers were born walked out toward the mound to break up the meeting. The umpire joined the group, got close, and by the time everyone turned back toward their respective positions, pitcher Ron Baker was dead. A small knife, angled from the right side of his heart, protruded from his uniform. The pitcher slumped down on the dirt.” Walters took stock of the students. Each face was transfixed on her every word. She was really enjoying herself. Walters noticed one of the female students raise her hand. “Yes?” asked Walters.

The little girl cleared her throat. “Are you saying there were six people who could have killed the pitcher?”

Walters grinned. “That’s close. Actually, there were seven people. The coach, the third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, catcher, and the umpire all had the opportunity to commit the murder.”

A boy in the front row started to speak out, but was immediately stopped by Mrs. Johnson.

“Tommy, raise your hand. If you have a question, raise your hand like everyone else. You know the rules.”

The words were barely out of Mrs. Johnson’s mouth when the boy’s hand shot straight up. “Officer Walters,” he shouted.

“Yes?”

“Did anyone in the crowd see who did it?”

Walters took a few steps closer to the boy. “Very good question. Unfortunately, no. Can you imagine that? 50,000 people observed a murder, and not one of them saw who did it. A real mystery if you ask me.”

Brian Zito, one of Mrs. Johnson’s precocious pet students raised his hand. When called upon, he asked, “Did any of the players or coach or the umpire have a motive to kill the pitcher?”

Morgan Walters stared at the young man for a few seconds before responding. “That’s an excellent question. Does everyone here know what a motive is?” Walters quickly knew the answer based on several of the students’ puzzled facial expressions. “A motive is a reason for doing something. In this case, a reason for committing the murder.”

Zito pressed the police officer. “The person with the motive is the likely killer.”

“Very true,” said Walters. “But the problem in this unique case was that each and every one of them had a legitimate motive. What do you think of that?” She perused the room again.

Stacie Goldberg raised her hand and was acknowledged. “You mean all seven of them had a reason to kill the pitcher? Then how do you know who did it if no one saw it?”

“Ah,” said Walters with satisfaction in her voice, “That’s what good police work is all about. Actually, this case wasn’t really too difficult after all despite the odd circumstances and different motives for each of the suspects.”

Mrs. Johnson walked toward the front of the room. “Is everyone having a good time and learning a lot?” Half the class nodded, the others shouted, “Yes.”

“Good,” replied the teacher. “Does everyone want to hear about the motives and try to guess who murdered Ron Baker?” This time, the entire class screamed, “Yes!”

“Okay, then. Officer Walters, do you want to tell us about each of the motives and who the guilty party was?” She checked the wall clock. It was twenty minutes before three o’clock and dismissal time. “Can you tell us in less than twenty minutes?”

“Fine. I’ll explain the motives in ten minutes and leave ten minutes for the class to guess who did it.” Walters turned around and grabbed a piece of chalk. She began writing on the chalkboard:

 

COACH MELVIN TORRES – PITCHER BAKER HAD COMPLAINED TO THE STORM’S OWNERSHIP THAT TORRES WAS NOT ONLY GIVING HIM BAD INFORMATION ABOUT HIS PITCHING MECHANICS, BUT THAT THE ADVICE TORRES HAD PROVIDED CAUSED EXTREME SHOULDER PAIN AND IF CONTINUED WOULD CUT SHORT HIS CAREER.

THIRD BASEMAN CHAD BALLINGER – BALLINGER’S SISTER WAS ONCE MARRIED TO BAKER BUT AFTER A BRIEF AND UNHAPPY MARRIAGE, THEY DIVORCED. BALLINGER’S SISTER BECAME SO DEPRESSED AFTER THAT, SHE NEVER WANTED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE.

SHORTSTOP ELLIOT MONTROSE – IT WAS RUMORED THAT BAKER OWED MONTROSE A GOOD DEAL OF MONEY DATING BACK TO WHEN THEY WERE BOTH IN THE ROOKIE LEAGUES. BAKER DENIED OWING THE MONEY AND REFUSED TO PAY. THE TWO HAD GOTTEN INTO ARGUMENTS AND FIGHTS IN THE DUGOUT DURING A COUPLE OF GAMES.

SECOND BASEMAN KIM SOO CHAN – IT WAS WELL KNOWN THAT BAKER FREQUENTLY TEASED KIM SOO CHAN ABOUT THE SECOND BASEMAN’S DIFFICULTY WITH THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. SOO CHAN HAD A TRANSLATOR AND STUDIED HARD, BUT HE LEARNED ABOUT BAKER’S INSULTS AND HE WAS DEEPLY HURT BY THEM.

FIRST BASEMAN BABE PHILLIPS – DURING A SPRING TRAINING GAME LAST YEAR, PHILLIPS ACCUSED BAKER OF DELIBERATELY STEPPING ON HIS FOOT DURING A CLOSE PLAY AT FIRST BASE CAUSING PHILLIPS TO MISS HALF THE SEASON. PHILLIPS IS ALMOST READY TO RETIRE, BUT BECAUSE HE MISSED SO MANY GAMES, HE IS FORCED TO CONTINUE PLAYING IN ORDER TO REACH HIS FULL PENSION.

CATCHER BOB VITELLI – IT WAS NO SECRET THAT RON BAKER PREFERRED BACKUP CATCHER JOSE ALVAREZ TO PLAY WHEN HE PITCHED. HE STATED FOR ALL OF THE MEDIA THAT ALVAREZ WAS A GREAT HANDLER OF PITCHERS AND THAT IN BAKER’S OPINION ALVAREZ SHOULD BE THE STARTING CATCHER.

UMPIRE CHARLEY BRICKHOUSE – IN A GAME LAST YEAR, BAKER ACCUSED BRICKHOUSE OF CHEATING FOR THE OPPOSITION. THERE WAS A HUGE INVESTIGATION. BRICKHOUSE WAS CLEARED OF THE CHARGES, BUT SINCE THEN THERE HAS BEEN BAD BLOOD BETWEEN THE TWO.

 

Walters placed the chalk in the tray, turned, and faced the class. “Well? Who did it? Which one of the seven killed pitcher Ron Baker? Who has a guess, and why?”

Each of the twenty students and Mrs. Johnson was given a chance to name a name and offer an opinion as to why. A majority voted for third baseman Chad Ballinger. This group felt strongly about Ballinger’s sister and how she had been treated. Kim Soo Chan received the next most votes as the killer. “No one likes to be teased,” said a boy in the back row. “I used to be teased in first grade and I wanted to kill Tommy Ballentine.” A number of students chuckled. Officer Walters stifled a laugh and controlled a burgeoning grin. Mrs. Johnson interjected, “That’s a little strong. Let’s all turn our undivided attention to Officer Walters. We only have a few minutes remaining. But, I have a quick question. The murderer was the one who got in closest proximity to the pitcher Baker. Correct?”

Walters checked her wristwatch. “Good question, but there again, it wasn’t so simple. They all had contact with Baker.”

“Really? What do you mean?” questioned Mrs. Johnson.

“Each of the players either patted or grabbed Baker briefly as a way of showing support and encouragement to help boost his confidence. It’s typical of ballplayers.”

The teacher thought about that for a moment. “I see,” she said, “but that would rule out the umpire. No?”

“Under normal circumstances, yes. But, there was precious little normal about this case. Pitcher Baker requested a new baseball, and umpire Brickhouse grabbed the old ball from Baker and placed a new one in his hand. He was as close as any of the players and had the same opportunity as the others.”

Mrs. Johnson and one other student guessed Charley Brickhouse as the murderer. They felt that an accusation of cheating might have caused the umpire to seek revenge and since he was right there in the mix, they felt confident he was the murderer. A few pupils quoted that money was the root of all evil, and said that Elliot Montrose was the one. Two children thought it was catcher Bob Vitelli. No one guessed Melvin Torres or first baseman Babe Phillips.

The bell sounded ending class. “Okay, everyone, time to pack up. Let’s all thank Police Office Walters for coming here and sharing with us such an interesting case.”

The entire student body was silent. They all wanted to speak, but controlled themselves. Mrs. Johnson, “Well, I guess you are all wondering who actually did it. Who killed pitcher Ron Baker? Officer Walters, can you answer that question?”

“I most certainly can. I’m afraid none of you selected the correct person. While each and every one of them had what we consider a motive and an equal opportunity to commit the crime, if you listened carefully and know just a little about baseball, you would have guessed that first baseman Babe Phillips, was convicted of the murder.”

There was a collective, “Why? How did you know?”

Walters continued, “Remember it was stated that Mr. Baker was stabbed with a knife angled from the right side of his heart. That means the killer was left-handed. First basemen are typically left-handed. Babe Phillips is left-handed. All of the other position players in the infield, including the catcher, are always right-handed. This is true for Melvin Torres, previously stated and umpire Brickhouse, also a former infielder. Sometimes, the solution is right in front of our eyes.”


Mrs. Johnson grinned. “Let’s all give a round of applause for Officer Walters.” The bell sounded. “Line up at the door everyone, single file for the bus.”




Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type. His short story Where's Olive? appeared in ombd! in March 2015, “Time to Think” appeared in omdb! in October, 2014, “Heads or Tails?” appeared in omdb! in July, 2014, and  Written Out appeared in omdb! in June, 2012.


Copyright 2015 Bruce Harris. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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